What does Ctrl+Enter mean? It depends on whom you ask

One of my colleagues was baffled by why Outlook displayed this message:

Microsoft Outlook

You pressed CTRL + ENTER.

Do you want to use CTRL + ENTER as a keyboard shortcut for sending a message?

☐ Do not show this message again.

Yes No

"I never understood the need for that dialog since I thought Ctrl+Enter meant, by convention, send this message. Then one day a former coworker expressed frustration at the dialog because Ctrl+Enter means soft return. He's a few years older so perhaps its a generational thing? I do notice that the various web based email services differ in how they interpret Ctrl+Enter."

Back in the old days, Ctrl+Enter meant "I'm hitting Enter, but I just want you to insert the Enter character, not execute anything."

From an MS-DOS prompt, Ctrl+Enter inserted a line break but did not execute the command.

In a multi-line edit control on a dialog box, Ctrl+Enter inserts a carriage return into the edit control rather than executing the default button on the dialog box.

But since nobody uses MS-DOS or dialog boxes any more, these historical meanings are gradually being lost, and Ctrl+Enter is pretty much a wide open hotkey that anybody can assign whatever meaning to it they like. (For extra confusion: Some programs use Shift+Enter to insert a carriage return into a field.)

Someday, people won't even remember what Ctrl+Insert and Shift+Insert do. (I still use the first one when working in WinDbg, since the modern hotkey doesn't work; it means "break into the debugger.")

Comments (45)
  1. parkrrrr says:

    There's a third one in that last group: Shift+Delete. I use those keys pretty much exclusively, and get annoyed when they don't work.

  2. Joshua says:

    I use and write dialog boxes all the time. The way to type a newline into a text box is ENTER (OK is suppressed on multiline textboxes). I don't make single line textboxes for which newline is valid.

  3. BOFH says:

    Skype for Desktop: Ctrl-Enter inserts a linebreak into the chat.

    Skype for Business: Ctrl-Enter starts a voice call from the chat.

    Sounds like something thought up by Catbert.

    [Skype for Desktop and Skype for Business are two unrelated products developed independently, which were later rebranded with the same name for marketing purposes. That the two behave differently is hardly surprising. -Raymond]
  4. Darkstar says:

    I usually prefer ctrl+insert/ctrl+delete instead of ctrl-c/ctrl-v because the former is easier and quicker to type with only the right hand (thumb and middle finger, no need for the little finger for hitting ctrl)

    I also get slightly annoyed if these don't work in some program :)

  5. xor88 says:

    This is a useful safety because accidentally sending is embarassing.

    But then, if Outlook had a 30 second mail recall feature like Gmail this would be unnecessary.

    [Outlook has a similar safety feature, but you have to turn it on manually. I use that feature constantly. -Raymond]
  6. Also, a shift enter may indicate that you wish to enter a line before the current line.

    But I thought, back to the old days of DOS, that it was more about CR vs CRLF… though it's hard to recall at this point.

  7. Rutger says:

    [Skype for Desktop and Skype for Business are two unrelated products developed independently, which were later rebranded with the same name for marketing purposes. That the two behave differently is hardly surprising. -Raymond]

    True but I use them both and I have placed quite a number of unwanted calls, rebranding a product is not as easy as telling everyone hey we're now xyz-for business if xyz-for non business behaves totally different.

    Yes indeed this one hurts :)

  8. Dave Shaw says:

    As someone who first learn to program in Turbo Pascal, Shift+Del and Shift+Ins are my only ways of cutting and pasting when working in a text editor. When using (Ctrl+)Shift+Home/End or arrow keys to select text, I already have the one the keys I need pressed down, it's so much easier.

    Although you need to be careful because in Windows Shift+Ins is still paste, but Shift+Del certainly isn't Cut :)

    [Shift+Del is supposed to be Cut. -Raymond]
  9. Kemp says:

    Many chat programs use Ctrl+Enter to inset a newline rather instead of sending the message. I tend to use it in a lot of places where it's not clear what pressing enter on its own will do. I never knew it worked in DOS though, I'm not quite old enough for that, I've learned it entirely from chat programs and other similar things. I guess it's probably because I don't use Outlook, but I never knew Ctrl+Enter is also known as a shortcut to send emails.

  10. creaothceann says:

    related: Excel's "Alt+Enter" for inserting a line break in a cell.

  11. Ryan says:

    I use ctrl+enter all the time to insert line breaks.  With the proliferation of browser based social…stuff…I'd think it would still be a very popular key combo.  It's the only method I know for getting a line break into the likes of Facebook.  

  12. Ken in NH says:

    I've always used Ctrl+Enter on the book of face for their ridiculous commenting boxes that take enter as submit. I just tested it and both Shift+Enter and Ctrl+Enter insert a line break. So there is some hope that it won't be lost, though I'm told all the kids have abandoned that place for tweets or something.

    As mentioned by @Kemp, the chat programs I use interpret Ctrl+Enter as a request for a line break.

    I suspect that Outlook is likely an odd duck on this question <a href="blogs.msdn.com/…/10542285.aspx">as it is with other well-established short cuts like Ctrl+F</a> and probably for the same reason.

  13. Henke37 says:

    Personally I have ctrl-enter ingrained as test movie in Flash. And alt-enter to toggle full screen. Inserting a linebreak has always been shift-return for me.

  14. Vim says:

    For me ESC yy p means copy and paste. It bugs me that these work in Outlook. I mean it's a standard, isn't it? ;-)

  15. Cheshire Cat says:

    As an ancient one who attended Homebrew Computer Club (which does not exist) meetings and was tangentially in involved in the CUA (Common User Interface) program before the great divorce. it pains me to see all the effort put into thinking through requirement plus the _human subject testing_ all apparently lost in the pre-google information gap.  

    Do educators ever mention why the British drive on the left, the Americans aren't metric, Exit is the last in the list of the left most menu bar item, Help is the rightmost, and the space bar emulates a mouse click?  

    Or, as an imbedded controller programmer screamed at me after inviting me to play with her new box, "Don't you know you have to press STOP before you press CANCEL???!!!"

  16. Wear says:

    [Skype for Desktop and Skype for Business are two unrelated products developed independently, which were later rebranded with the same name for marketing purposes. That the two behave differently is hardly surprising. -Raymond]

    Hardly surprising from a developer perspective maybe but very surprising from a user perspective.

    [True. But my point was that it wasn't intentionally designed that way out of some Catbertian malevolence. -Raymond]
  17. A long time ago, I used Ctrl+Ins and Shift+Ins to copy and paste into password editboxes. Windows always blocked Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V but Ctrl+Ins and Shift+Ins were neglected until … Windows XP SP2? I don't really remember.

    I started forcing myself to use Ctrl+X because Shift+Del DOES NOT cut files in Windows Explorer! You know what it does, right?

    Now, Ctrl+Ins overwrites the "font-family" of the "body" element of a web page with "Open Sans". (It was "Calibri" before.) I always use it in this blog.

  18. pmbAustin says:

    I have to say, I think Ctrl-Enter to send the message is one of the most EVIL things ever invented.  I'm glad the dialog is there so I can turn that OFF.

    I type fast, and as such, it's not unusual for my finger to linger on the ctrl key sometimes, when reaching for enter.  I have accidentally sent SO MANY EMAILS just because I'm copying and pasting text (Ctrl-V, Enter) that it makes my head spin that ANYONE ever thought this was a good idea.

    I loathe Ctrl-Enter-To-Send and wish the maggots of a thousand camels to infest the armpits of whomever came up with this evil idea.

  19. Alice Rae says:

    Tangential, but…I find it mildly amusing that Windows 8 and 10's window themes can be reproduced quite faithfully in HTML compared to Windows XP or 7's default themes

  20. Cesar says:

    I recall that ICQ did it one way, but newer chat programs did it the opposite way. That was very annoying.

  21. Nico says:

    > [Outlook has a similar safety feature, but you have to turn it on manually. I use that feature constantly. -Raymond]

    I'm glad to see I'm not the only one that uses this! Hopefully enough other people at Microsoft do as well, so the feature doesn't disappear in Outlook++.

    Delay sending email is useful multiple times a day, either to undo an accidental send or to make a last minute edit.  Love it and wish it was a little more discoverable.  One tweak I made to the rule is to disable the delay if a character is in the body of the message in the odd times someone is (very) impatiently waiting.  I decided on 0x2000 (http://www.fileformat.info/…/index.htm) since it's whitespace and easy to remember and type ("2000", ALT+X).

    Regarding CTRL+ENTER, I like when it generally means "take the affirmative action for the current state".  This means "send message" for an email, in Jira (our issue tracking system) it means "create the issue", and in our source control client it means "commit staged changes".  I usually try SHIFT+ENTER for inserting linebreaks in places they don't easily go.

    Sadly neither hotkey appears to do anything on this form.  I was hoping for an easter egg in that just does "alert('Get off my lawn!')" :)

  22. Nick says:

    @Lady Luna: Well, considering HTML is one of the languages of native apps in Windows 8 and 10, I'd hope you can faithfully produce Windows' styling in HTML.

  23. Tim says:

    Since no one's mentioned it yet I'll just say that the "official" hotkey for sending email in Outlook is Alt+S.

    I used to use Ctrl+Enter but after they added the dialog I started going with Alt+S because I hate changing defaults in any program I use.

  24. Mark S says:

    I'm with pmbAustin; that popup has saved me from accidental sending.

    Also, re: Ctrl-Ins, Shift-Ins, Shift-Del — not only are they great when doing text manipulation, but it's a lot harder to accidentally copy, when you intended to paste (thus overwriting the clipboard)…

  25. EMB says:

    @Tim probably, Alt+S is "official" hotkey in English.

  26. S.A. says:

    Shift+Del is certainly not cut. It's delete "for real" (not send to the recycle bin).

  27. Deltics says:

    @S.A. – Windows Explorer is the exception that proves the rule.  Or perhaps the exception that led to the rule becoming more of a guideline to be more or less ignored at will.

    Chalk me up as another who finds Ctrl+Ins / Shift+Ins / Shift+Del as far more "fluid" in use than having to scrunch my left hand into a claw to reach Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V / Ctrl+X (not to mention that having 3 such awkward targets in such close proximity to each other (together with Ctrl-Z) is just ASKING for people to mis-strike.

  28. Nico says:

    > not to mention that having 3 such awkward targets in such close proximity to each other (together with Ctrl-Z) is just ASKING for people to mis-strike

    Which is kind of funny, since the reason CTRL+V is used to paste is that it's right next to X and C, so the motion required is smaller.

    Personally I find using Insert and Delete equally as cumbersome, as it requires moving my right hand from the home row.

  29. Ian Yates says:

    Surprised no one has mentioned that Ctrl+Enter in Word is "Page Break" and Shift+Enter in Word is "Line Break".  I knew there was a way to get line breaks in Excel and for the life of me couldn't discover it the other day – thanks for the Alt+Enter tip from an earlier poster!

    In every new messaging, typing, etc app I do a quick experiment to determine the behaviour but then forget after a while if I don't use the app often.  Pasting in a line break from Notepad often works too :)

  30. Joshua says:

    Can't turn off Windows Update wasn't malovent but it reeks of Catbert. Malovent was believing the monitor inspected DPI over the manually declared DPI. This required poking the registry to set a Modern UI config value to an invalid choice to get it working.

  31. I used to use Ctrl-Enter as soft return.  I've shifted to Shift-Enter now, as that's what web forms seem to have opted for.

  32. Drak says:

    @deltics: scrunch into a claw? When I go for ctrl-c,v,x my pinky goes on ctrl, middle finger on x, and index finger for c or v. Not sure how that scrunches up my hand. Unless you have one of those keyboards where the keys are places funnily so it is 'easier' to type :P

  33. John says:

    Speaking of Outlook/Office it looks like Raymond is Internet Famous on the Visio Home page (He's in the still from the promotional video) products.office.com/…/flowchart-software

  34. Viila says:

    For me the Ins and Del shortcuts would be total non starters because they are inconvenient to reach with your left hand, or you need to take your right hand off the mouse. You may be programmers, but remember people, programs other than text editors use the clipboard as well!

  35. Medinoc says:

    Most programs in this day and age that support shift-Insert give it the very same behavior as Ctrl+V. Sometimes I wish for a separate behavior that would place the caret at the beginning of the pasted text instead of the end, like shift-Insert did in MS-DOS editors.

  36. Judy2003 says:

    You may think these keys are ‘historical’ but I think they're easier to feel than the new ones and I just hate it when they don't work.

  37. Neil says:

    Does pressing Ctrl+Enter at an MS-DOS Prompt not work if you have DOSKEY loaded, or was it removed before Windows 95 (I don't have anything earlier handy)?

  38. foo says:

    Was the "redo" command Ctrl+A back in the olden days, when "redo" wasn't everywhere? Maybe in VC 1.5? I think I remember having to re-learn that  key when it changed to Ctrl+Y and Ctrl+A changed to "select all". And Windows 10 (or maybe this goes back to 8.x) isn't all Catbert: Alt+Enter at a command prompt is back, and services.msc remembers its view settings. But too bad Windows 10 update kb articles are so obscure. Might lead one to think: ∴ the terrorists won.

  39. Sean says:

    I use the mintty cygwin terminal, so I'm used to Ctrl/Shift+Insert because that's the fastest way to copy or paste stuff inside the terminal. I was quite pleased when I discovered those hotkeys could be used in other contexts as well.

  40. frenchguy says:

    Speaking of keyboard shortcuts in Windows 10, does anyone know how to change (or disable) the shortcuts for switching between languages (left alt + shift) or layouts (ctrl + shift)?

  41. John Elliott says:

    foo: 'Redo' still is Ctrl-A in Visual Studio 2010 for me (I think I'm using the VC++ 2.0 keybindings). Because Ctrl-Y is 'delete line', and that comes from WordStar.

  42. Norm says:

    Was the 'Nobody uses dialog boxes' sarcasm?

    And I did accidentally send an email via CTRL+Enter. Was shocked it did that. No it didn't ask.

  43. James says:

    I take it your colleague doesn't often paste text into an email with Ctrl+V and immediately hitting the Enter key, because a lot of the time when I do that, I accidentally hit Enter before releasing Ctrl and send the message prematurely.

    I hate the Ctrl+Enter behavior of sending the current message.

  44. boogaloo says:

    Ctrl+Enter as the default send message in outlook is evil, fortunately you can turn it off. The default is responsible for

  45. boogaloo says:


    Ctrl+Enter as the default send message in outlook is evil, fortunately you can turn it off. The default is responsible for many incomplete emails being send.

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